The elder James was a basketball star at Southern Cal so did he go into the NBA? Nope, he opted for the NFL, became a tight end and went on to play four years for the Rams and Lions.
James the younger played basketball at Long Beach Poly High but baseball was his game where he played both first base and pitched. The Dodgers loved the way he swung a bat so chose him in the 11th round of the 2002 draft. The plan was to play him at first but since they had picked another kid who much like him -- James Loney -- they didn't push a contract on James, allowing him to go to Golden West Junior College to further develop his game.
That he did did, although it was on on the mound that he came the furthest. He'd beefed his fast ball up to the low 90's, showed a sharp curve and a promising change. so when he signed as a draft-and-follow in 2003, it was decided to keep him pitching.
He spent the summer in the Gulf Coast League, compiling a 2-4, 3.33 record which isn't something to shout about yet his promise clearly showed. Command was the problem for when he had it, he dominated like the time when he struck out nine batters in four innings. In many contests, he'd have one inning where his control strayed, then settle down to pitch several strong innings. The fact that he struck out 47 batters in 48 innings showed his potential.
By then some in the organization were comparing him to Edwin Jackson, another who was more of a hitter in high school before his pitching career took form as a pro. James might just do the same, they predicted before spring training 2004.
Instead, he developed tendinitis in his elbow and couldn't throw at all. The usual form would have been to put him into a rehab program. But wait- there were some instructors who saw him batting and proposed he concentrate on that while his injury healed. So it was that in 2004, he was back in the Gulf Coast; this time as a mostly designated hitter, sometimes outfielder where he could make the occasional throw to the cutoff man even if the elbow couldn't stand the strain of pitching regularly.
When he didn't hit all that much (.224 with no home runs), some argued for his mound return when he was strong enough. However, he seemed to hit his stride at the plate in the extended camp this past spring, becoming one of the better looking hitters there. So, it was off to Ogden, still as an outfielder.
Once the Pioneer League season started, though, the hits weren't coming that often. What's more, the Dodgers had drafted some outfielders who were producing at the plate so naturally they got more playing time while James sat as his average dwindled to .229.
By this time, though, his arm was sound so the decision was made to put him back on the hill once again. So, Sunday, he was once more a pitcher, throwing one inning in which he proceeded to give up a couple of hits but got two ground balls,one of which was mishandled, letting in two unearned runs. He then struck out the next two men.
"It was weird," he declared afterwards. "It's like I was never away from pitching."
He certaininly impressed his catcher, Rotsen Gil, who said, "His fast ball was right there. He threw his curves for strikes and his change-up was good. He's a really good pitcher."
He's still just 20 years old so there's plenty of time to grow into this venture. That probably means James McDonald is a righthanded pitcher once more. Hey, making the switches pay off is just in keeping with the McDonald family athletic tradition.